What is Yoga

Historical data

Generally, the history of Yoga is not clear, as its origins are lost in the distant past, starting with reports from around 5,000 BC. The earliest tangible archaeological evidence of the existence of Yoga is the engravings on stone slabs with Yogic postures, found around 3,000 BC in the Indian Valley.

 

Tradition has it that the founder of Yoga is Shiva. It is one of the three deities of the Indian trio: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The first reference to Yoga is in the Veda, in 2,500 BC, in a huge collection of scriptures. They are the oldest, the holiest and most important texts of India. The foundation of yogic teaching is in the Upanishads, which are the later part of the Vedas, about 800 BC. The Upanishads are the most recent segment of 20 Vedic texts containing the fundamental teachings and philosophy of Yoga. It is one of the oldest efforts of man to give an answer to existential questions.

 

In 600 BC the great epic poem Mahabharata appears which includes the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is one of the Upanishads; God, in the form of Krishna, trains the warrior Arjuna in Yoga. It is one of the most important philosophical works of the world and the most popular religious poem of Sanskrit literature.

In 200 BC Patanjali writes the Yoga Sutras which is the oldest surviving manual of Yoga. In this manual, Patanjali collected, classified and codified the traditional techniques of Yoga that existed until then. The 196 aphorisms are the Yoga Sutras and unite all the different theories and practices of yoga in a condensed, comprehensive and concise text full of meaning. Values ​​and social forms also emerge, followed by statements of how ethical codes can lead into self-knowledge. These are the eight rules of discipline in Yoga or “Eightfold Path of Yoga” and is the cornerstone of the philosophy of Yoga.

 

These are:


Yamas​

The ethical barriers, testing the acts, thoughts and feelings. They encourage not to use violence in all its forms (ahimsa), to be honest (satya), to avoid theft (asteya), not to be greedy (brahmacharya) and avid (Aparigraha).


Niyamas

The rules or laws, integrating discipline and spiritual growth in our actions to ourselves through five virtues that pertain to the observance of chastity (Saucha), simplicity (Santosha), study (Swadhyyaya), devotion (Tapas) and the excess of the Ego (Ishvarapranidhana).
 

Asanas

The attitudes – exercises in Yoga.


 

Pranayamα

The breathing exercises that control our vital energy (prana).


 

Pratyahara

The turn of the senses inwards and the release from the senses of the material world.


Dharana​

The concentration of the mind on one point- the ability to direct the mind to an object- and to remain attached to it.


Dhyana

The meditation in which the mind is focused on one point.


Samadhi​

The union with the core of existence, the soul. A mode of enlightenment- like trance. The wanderings of the mind are neutralised, the yogi acquires control the mind and our thoughts calm.

Of course, Yoga- by today's standards- is not associated with the ethical rules, the social and intellectual behaviour of Patanjali's era, but with the balance and wellness that gives to the body-mind. The change took place in the 1930s by the great masters, who placed the body in the center of the exercise and founded Hatha Yoga.

 

400 years ago, when the British went to India, they were impressed and puzzled by what they had heard about the illusionists who lived in the Himalayas and did the strangest of things. Some travelers- seekers of knowledge managed to get in the dens of the hermits and so the first information began to reach the West. Yoga was spread/ popularised in the West by the most famous modern Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda. Born in India in the late 19th century, he was the one that introduced Yoga to America, and then to the rest of the world.

 

Over the centuries, the teaching of Yoga has evolved, while its branches have multiplied as many new schools developed all over the world. Today Yoga is taught around the world and anyone can be informed and practise Yoga.



Types of Υoga

There are various types of yoga; the most important branches of yoga include Hatha Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga, which is established by the Yoga Sustras of Patanjali, and is generally known as “Yoga” in the context of Indian philosophy.


Karma Yoga

"Disciplined action". It focusses on the adherence to duty (dharma) while remaining detached from the reward. It states that one can attain Moksha (salvation) or love of God (bhakti) with the performance of his/ her duties in a unselfish way, for the pleasure of the Supreme, who is the welfare of the world.
 

Jnâna Yoga

"The path to knowledge". Its original meaning was the knowledge of the absolute, later knowledge was interpreted as a term of commitment. Jnvna Yoga is the complete understanding of the field of action, the body and the connoisseur of the body, i.e. the soul. A transcendentalist should understand the difference between body and soul.
 

Bhakti Yoga

This is a term that indicates the practice of spiritual encouragement and love devoted to God. Traditionally, there are nine forms of Bhakti Yoga. It is generally considered the easiest of the four general processes to liberation or salvation. In the scriptures, Bhakti Yoga is described as a stage of perfectioning, mainly because it transcends moksha (salvation) as a level of spiritual realisation.

 

​Hatha Yoga​

Its description is done by a wise yogi of the 15th century in India, Swatmarama. Its difference from the Raja Yoga is that it focuses on the purification of the physical body, which leads to the purification of the mind. Hatha Yoga and its modern variations are what today most people really mean by the word «Yoga», because the emphasis is given to the body through the practice of postures (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama). It also uses five techniques of self- control, targeting five more points: “Kriya”, aiming at purification, “Nidra”, aiming at relaxation, “Pratyahara”, aiming at the detached self-observation, “Dharana”, aiming at the concentration of the mind and “Dhyana”, aiming at meditation.

 

Hatha Yoga is the most widespread system of Yoga in the western world, especially in the second half of the 20th century. It must be noted that its popularity continues to grow. It is a holistic system. Its effect lies not only in the body but also the mind, the breathing and our mood. It affects the whole of our existence, especially the immune and nervous system. According to Yoga, posture is a way of life. The posture, the breathing, the mind and the psychological well-being function as communicating vessels in interaction. The improvement one feels while practising yoga will be impressive and will demonstrate one’s capabilities.

Yoga is one of the oldest sciences of the body and spirit. Its roots come from the East and especially from India. It is a holistic system of approach to the human existence and a balanced lifestyle. Yoga comprises a large number of exercises and techniques: it is described as the union of the individual consciousness- spirit (jivatma) with the universal consciousness- spirit (paramatma).

 

On a more practical level, this union has resulted in balancing and harmonising the body, the mind, the soul and emotions. The practices and goals of Yoga are deeper, developing a system for internal exploration and personal development.

 

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